Vaccinium myrtillus is a small deciduous shrub, native to northern Europe, known as the bilberry; many species of vaccinium are widespread in most of the cool or temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. These are small densely branched shrubs, sometimes climbing or ground cover, which remain below 40-50 cm in height. The leaves of blueberry are oval or lanceolate, thick and leathery, of a bright green color, they take on a yellow-gold or reddish color in autumn and tend to remain on the plant even after being wilted; in late spring the Vaccinium myrtillus produces small bunches of bell-shaped flowers, slightly waxy, of white color, at the leaf axil. At the beginning of summer or at the beginning of autumn, depending on the species, the roundish fruits ripen, of violet color, covered by a layer of bloom which makes them opaque. There are many species of vaccinium, with fruits of varying size: V. corymbosum, a native of North America, has fruits with a diameter close to two cm; V. macocarpon has red fruits, like V. vitis-idaea. In general, blueberry fruits ripen in succession over 3-4 weeks. These fruits are very appreciated to be consumed fresh or in jam and are also used both in herbal medicine and in the pharmaceutical industry, being rich in vitamins and flavonoids.
These small plants can be planted in full sun, or preferably in partial shade, especially in places with very hot summers, but choosing places with a good degree of brightness, a fundamental factor for the production of abundant fruits. Generally they do not fear the winter cold, even if there are species more suitable for the heat, and others more suitable for the cold; in general it is advisable to put the blueberry bushes sheltered from the wind, which can cause damage to the leaves and which causes rapid evaporation of the water from the soil. To keep the soil moist and to avoid the excessive development of weeds it is advisable to place bark, pine needles, or dried leaves around the plant.
Blueberries love fresh and moist places, they need to be watered regularly, from March to October, especially during the period of flowering and fruiting; they fear drought, but it is advisable to let the soil dry slightly between one watering and another. In spring it mixes the earth with mature organic fertilizer, being careful not to touch the delicate roots of the plant; then it is fertilized periodically with fertilizer rich in nitrogen.
These shrubs need a cool, moist, very well drained soil with an acid pH; if the soil of our garden is calcareous we can overcome this problem by periodically mixing peat or loam with decomposed leaves, or we can grow blueberries in pots. The roots of the blueberry are very delicate and thin, it is good to remember them when we provide to weed out weeds or to add acid soil around the plant. A clayey and compact substrate should be avoided, which does not allow good drainage and causes the formation of water stagnation. The planting of these shrubs should be done in the autumn, before the temperatures go down and the first frosts occur.
The reproduction of blueberry plants generally occurs by woody cutting; the twigs should be rooted in late summer in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts; the new myrtillus plants will be planted the following spring; blueberries have very slow growth, and cuttings do not always root easily: it is good to prepare several cuttings and prepare to wait at least a couple of years before enjoying the fruits of the new plants.
Blueberry - Vaccinium myrtillus: Pests and diseases
In general, blueberry plants are not attacked by pests or diseases, although cultivation in heavy, calcareous or very high pH grounds may favor the onset of root rot and ferric chlorosis, which can be counteracted by adding to the soil of special supplements that correct its acidity. Aphids and cochineals can be deposited on shrubs and can be countered with insecticidal treatments, to be carried out before the fruits appear.